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Philadelphia Chinese Take Out Restaurants Are Cooking With Less Salt

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Hey Philly!  In an effort to curb hypertension (or high blood pressure) in Philadelphia low income neighborhoods, The Philadelphia Department of Health has partnered with Temple University and over 200 local Chinese take out restaurants to help lower the sodium content in popular Asian dishes.  This initiative, which begin in 2010 recruits and trains neighborhood restaurants how to cook with less salt without sacrificing flavor or losing customers.

Here’s more information from the city’s health department*:

Philadelphia Healthy Chinese Take-out Restaurant Initiative

In March 2010, Philadelphia launched Get Healthy Philly, a ground-breaking initiative focused on making it easier for Philadelphians to engage in healthy behaviors by increasing the availability of healthy foods, decreasing the availability and marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages, increasing opportunities for physical activity, and promoting smoke-free environments. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health partnered with Temple University’s Center for Asian Health, the Asian Community Health Coalition, and the Greater Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association to implement the Philadelphia Healthy Chinese Take-out Initiative, which
aims to 1) reduce the sodium content in Chinese take-out dishes by 10-15% in an effort to control and prevent high blood pressure and 2) promote compliance with the Philadelphia Youth Sales Law in order to reduce youth smoking rates.
Why Action is Needed

Americans consume too much sodium. Excess sodium intake greatly increases the risk of developing high blood pressure (or hypertension), a primary risk factor for heart disease and strokes.

  1. Almost 40% of adults and 47% of African Americans in Philadelphia have high blood pressure.
  2. On average, Americans consume twice the recommended daily amount of sodium (salt).
  3. Most of the sodium in the American diet comes from processed and restaurant foods.
  4. Chinese restaurant dishes contain large amounts of sodium mainly due to the sauces used in food preparation and cooking.
  5. Tobacco use is a contributing factor to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and other chronic diseases.
  6. Philadelphia has one of the highest rates of youth smoking and also has more tobacco retailers per capita than any other large city except for Washington, D.C.
  7. Over one-third of youth smokers purchase their own cigarettes.
  8. In Philadelphia, one out of every three attempts to purchase tobacco underage results in an illegal sale. This is significantly higher among Chinese take-out restaurants. 

Key Impacts & Achievements

  • Recruited 206 restaurants between July 2012 and April 2013 to participate in the initiative
  • Developed and implemented a formative baseline evaluation, including:

                      o Intake form that gathered data on customer demographics and preferences, ingredients used in preparation and cooking, and food purchasing practices.
o Baseline survey measuring knowledge, perceptions and behaviors related to salt use

  • Conducted a series of free cooking trainings in September 2012 and March 2013 for owners and chefs on low salt cooking techniques such as enhancing flavor with herbs and spices, using lower sodium ingredients, and modifying recipes
  • Collected and analyzed samples of two popular dishes from 20 restaurants to assess changes in sodium content. Preliminary results show a 20% reduction in sodium content from July 2012 to March 2013.
  • Developed and distributed marketing materials for owners and consumers to promote awareness of the initiative
  • Worked with owners to make low-salt changes such as using ½ the amount of prepared sauce in dishes, using lower sodium soy sauce as an ingredient in sauces, creating lower sodium recipes, adding chilis or garlic for more flavor, and limiting distribution of soy sauce packets to customers
  • Provided tobacco policy and control resources to help owners comply with the Tobacco Youth Sales Law; materials are available in multiple languages, including Chinese, Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese

*http://healthyamericans.org/health-issues/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Chinese-take-out-intervention-summary_5-3-13.pdf


For More Information:

Contact Jennifer Aquilante, Philadelphia Department of Public Health, at jennifer.aquilante@phila.gov or visit www.phila.gov/health or www.foodfitphilly.org